Tag Archives: spanish general election

What the Liberal Democrats should learn from Ciudadanos

These past two weeks have taken me back to being a 16 year old first starting to watch election debates in the UK. I’ve watched so many Spanish debates I know the campaign messages off by heart, and, being a young person, I’m up to date with all the Twitter memes. A (comparatively) young centrist leader, Albert Rivera, branded as a kingmaker, and constantly questioned about who he’ll seek to work with after the elections can’t help but be compared to Nick Clegg, especially when considered to be “the sexiest candidate in the campaign according to all the polls.”, and when the PSOE is talking about a vote for anyone else as a vote for the PP. It’s all oddly familiar. That comparison to Britain has backed Rivera into a corner, to an extent – the narrative over the last few weeks has been that Ciudadanos won’t enter into a coalition unless they are the party leading it.

However, the comparisons with 2010 extend further – there has been a serious drop in C’s support over the past few days, and today’s headline is that they will remain kingmakers but get far less seats than expected. Looking at the Andorran fruit markets (a cipher for polling, which cannot be published in the five days before the election) gave me the same feeling of shock as seeing the exit polls in the UK election. We’ll see what happens – I’ve already turned down a bet on the election result as a fool’s errand this morning – but chances are that it won’t be possible to live up to the hype.

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Postcard from Madrid: Podemos has done up its top button, now it needs to put on a tie

Jeremy Corbyn has, since being elected Leader of the Opposition, experienced a crisis in reconciling his radical politics with the wider want of the general public. He’s been reluctant to dissociate himself from perceived radicals such as the Stop the War Coalition (just as Podemos have with the likes of Syriza and President of Ecuador Raffael Correa), has refused an invitation to the CBI conference (citing prior engagements, despite him being invited the day he was elected party leader), has had to relent to party pressure on a free vote on Syria bombing and so on and so forth.

He has repeatedly been asked to compromise on his radical politics, and he has had great difficult in doing so.
Podemos need to better prepare themselves for opposition, by being able to answer the difficult questions that Corbyn has struggled with. Four years of a PP and Ciudadanos government poses a tremendous opportunity for Podemos to become Spain´s second party, however in order to do so they need to tweak their approach, without losing the impassioned support that they’ve already acquired.

They’ve already embarked on this journey by abandoning two of the more radical proposals from their European elections manifesto, as well as reassessing a debating system which gives the same worth to a proposal from one individual member as one from a “circle” of 30 or 50 people.

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Postcard from Madrid: Spanish forgiveness presents unique opportunity for Podemos

I have noticed during my time in Spain, and research prior, that equivocation and outright policy reversals are not met with the same scorn and derision by the media and general public here that they are in UK politics.

Mariano Rajoy, Pedro Sanchez and Pablo Iglesias have all, at some point in recent years, reneged, retracted, backtracked or outright refuted stances or statements they once held or pronounced, with very little cost to their wider popularity. In the United Kingdom at least, this is a cardinal sin; pure sacrilege. An example of how overt Spanish politicians are when backpedalling can be seen in Rajoy´s response to hiking VAT in 2012 after pledging not to, “I said I would lower taxes and I am raising them. I haven´t changed my way of thinking but circumstances have changed”. Who, in the run up to this year´s election, has mentioned this as a reason for rebuke against Rajoy?

The Liberal Democrats suffered a complete collapse partly because of such a manoeuvre (losing 48 seats in the 2015 UK general election), whilst just recently John McDonnell and then David Cameron were the subjects of much ridicule for making statements which they then failed to act upon (McDonnell’s U-turn on George Osbourne´s fiscal charter proposal, and Cameron failing to come to a decision on Heathrow by the end of this year). There’s been no such reprimand for Iglesias and his abandoning of “basic universal income” and a “citizen’s audit of Spanish public debt” – both policies he included in his European election manifesto, but which are absent from this year’s, “An economic plan for the people”. This is great news for him, as he’s being granted license to remould his and his party’s image.

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Postcard from Barcelona: The people’s concerns remain unanswered

Arc de Triomf (Barcelona)Barcelona have never been particularly enthused by the right wing Partido Popular – although Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy´s party is still expected to pick up three or four seats – however it´s no longer just them that a vast majority of the population now rally against. Mayor of Barcelona and En Comu Podem member, Ada Colau, expands her anti-´la casta´ (the establishment) rhetoric to include not just PP and the socialist PSOE, but also Convergencia and Ciudadanos.

“I’ve never seen PP, PSOE, Ciudadanos or Convergencia in a protest to stop evictions, defend healthcare or protect employment rights,” she said during a recent rally. The loudest cheer she received during this speech was in response to her statement that “PP is a party that really doesn’t care about human life”, a statement that, based on their presence in Catalonia, PP would be hard-pressed to refute.

Colau was one of the founders, and now chief spokesperson for, the PAH, who are a citizen´s movement focused on the right to housing. PAH yesterday exemplified Colau´s non-discriminatory rhetoric against all opposing political parties by plastering the posters of PP, PSOE and Ciudadanos in Barcelona with stickers accusing them of intending to vote against their ´5 demands´ (which include non-recourse debt, affordable rent, stop evictions, social housing and right to utilities). PAH are just one of many ´mareas´ (tides) spawned by the Indignados movement of May 15th 2011.

Stickered billboards

Another example of the disaffected tides of unhappy citizens that Rajoy has had to confront is ´Juventud Sin Futuro´ (Youth Without Future) – 260,000 people aged between 16 and 30 left Spain to find work abroad in 2012. Unemployment in Spain has indeed decreased from its peak of 27 per cent in 2013 by roughly six points, however the situation remains grave. 

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Postcard from Barcelona: Election debate shows digital disconnect of main party leaders

If the number of times I was the subject of some elaborate pick-pocketing scam whilst in Barcelona is any indication of the financial hardship that is faced by the local population then the situation there, despite increases in employment and GDP growth since 2013, remains desperate.

Whether walking down Las Ramblas – “the wide central artery of the town” as George Orwell put it – or enjoying breakfast just off Carrer de Balmes, I was put on constant alert; expectantly awaiting the next attempt by one of the chancers to relieve me of my valuables. What these individuals lacked in subtlety and deftness, however, they made up for in creativity.

Originality, imagination and audacity comparable only to the scathing ´golpes bajos´ (low blows) exchanged by Spanish Prime Minister and Partido Popular leader Mariano Rajoy and Socialist opposition leader Pedro Sanchez during Monday night´s debate. This two-way tirade of colourful insults saw one poll declare neither of the men victor, whilst many other commentators awarded the victory to the absent party leaders of Podemos and Ciudadanos.

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | 3 Comments

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